I’ve talked a bit before about recognizing the emotionally disturbed person (EDP) and offered some tips on dealing with an EDP. If I haven’t stressed the importance of how dangerous an EDP can be, let me do so now.
EDPs by there very nature are unpredictable and unlikely to deal with you in a completely rational manner. As a result, a calm EDP can instantly become violent without any discernible trigger. So, do not be lulled into complacency when dealing with someone who may be disturbed.
EDPs frequently perceive reality differently, and understanding that may help explain their behaviors. For example, several years ago I dealt with a man who went off his meds and began thinking that the people he was seeing were aliens wearing “human suits.” And this was before Men in Black. So he went out in the neighborhood with his MAK-90 rifle with the intent on stopping the invasion. Fortunately, we found him before he caught any aliens and no one was shot that night.
The point, though, is to look at things through his perception of reality. This EDP felt completely justified in shooting some people because he thought he would be killing alien invaders. So, what if I came up on him and he thought I was a bug in an Edgar suit? Suddenly it is game on. But, I could be talking to him and everything seem ok, and then he suddenly realizes I am an alien. If I have relaxed, he may very easily get the drop on me.
A rookie on my shift tonight spots a guy walking down the road who is wearing only socks, shorts, and heart monitor leads. The rookie is smart enough to figure out that the guy may be an escapee from the psych ward of one of the nearby hospitals and gets out with the subject. His backup officer rolls up about two minutes later to find the rookie and EDP rolling on the ground and the EDP is trying to grab the officer’s gun. Fortunately, the rookie is in solid shape and the backup officer was able to provide a bit of overwhelming force to get the guy in custody. Just another example of how an encounter with an EDP went downhill fast.
About eight hours before I went on shift tonight, a deputy with another county here in Florida was shot and killed by an EDP. It seems this EDP was taken to a psych facility for a mental health evaluation (called a Baker Act here) the previous evening. At some point the EDP escapes and then is recaptured. Then the EDP escapes from this ‘secure’ facility again. When the deputies go to pick him back up, he is armed and barricaded inside a house. Eventually the decision is made to have the special response team make entry, and ultimately, a deputy and the subject were both shot and killed.
Through the years, I have had a variety of police training classes, and a bunch of first hand experience. Probably the best set of tips I’ve gotten came from the Street Survival officer safety seminar I took in 1998. I don’t know if Calibre Press is still teaching the same tips, but here they are.
- Never underestimate the intelligence of an EDP. Many of them are highly intelligent.
- Get back-up enroute ASAP. If things go bad, you may have a fight on your hands.
- Don’t rush. Wait for your back-up, and be prepared to talk for a while to establish rapport. As trainer and law enforcement veteran Bob Willis told us, if you don’t talk, you’ll have to fight.
- Use simple, straightforward language. Speak slowly. Use soft tones.
- Try to calm the EDP.
- Maintain your reactionary gap, and be willing to widen those gaps more than normal.
- Be ready to use force if it becomes necessary.
- Do not assume cooperation in previous encounters will mean cooperation in this or future incidents. Apparent cooperation doesn’t mean the danger has passed.
So, don’t get complacent. You never know when an EDP will decide its time to try and kill you.
Richard is a police officer with a medium sized, central Florida department, and previously worked for a Metro-Atlanta agency. He has served as a field training officer, court officer, corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, watch commander, commander of a field training and evaluation program, and general pain in the butt to management-types looking to cut training hours.